Quick tips to get you on your way in the Arctic wonderland!

Iceland – I’m sure you’ve seen or heard how beautiful it is, and no doubt you, or someone you know, will head there some day. Considering I just travelled Iceland predominantly in a bath robe and with little money, I thought I’d share some of what I found and learnt on my journey. Here’s eight things you should know about Iceland.

1. Don’t go to Iceland in summer expecting to see the Aurora Borealis (but do expect AMAZING sunsets)

If there’s anything Iceland is renowned for, it's the magnificent display of dancing green lights during the night. If you want to see the Aurora Borealis, be sure to head to Iceland during peak season which is September to March, this is when the night sky is darkest and allows for the the Earth’s magnetic lights to come alive. During early spring and all of summer, Iceland experiences what’s called the midnight sun, which means the sun never fully sets. It basically produces a 3-hour long golden hour in which the sun sets and rises straight after, an amazing natural attraction which is also worth visiting Iceland for.

2. Base your adventures around sunset and sunrise

With an abundance of wildlife and natural phenomena, it comes with no surprise that parts of Iceland are heavily populated with tourists. I’m sure you’ve seen photos and videos of Icelands’ majestic waterfalls and canyons, often looking secluded and completely detached from civilisation. These photos however are usually taken around specific times when all the tour buses have left; sunset and sunrise. The times for both change dramatically through the seasons so be sure to check before you go. As mentioned above, sunset can happen at midnight in the peak of summer, and as early as 4pm in the winter. There’s nothing better than having Iceland’s natural beauty all to yourself.

3. Icelandic people live in the modern world

I’ve had quite a few friends ask what the locals in Iceland are like, some even asked if they’re eskimos without internet. The people here are civilised, with regular houses and cars like us, they might just have a waterfall with a couple of horses in their backyard. Icelands’ population sits at 330,823, which is considerably small in comparison to a lot of other countries, but they’re still just as connected to the outside world as we are to theirs, and also have modern cities with awesome architecture.

4. ISK is the local currency

ISK or Icelandic Krona is the local currency. Something I got caught out on was exchanging my money into Euros as the money converters back home swore that Iceland, like Denmark and other Scandinavian countries, accepts EUR and GBP (Great Britain Pound) alongside their own currency. They don’t, so don’t lose money exchanging twice, find a place that sells Kronas or wait until you get to Iceland to exchange money. There’s nothing worse than offering to pay in Euros, only to be met with a blank stare from one of the locals.

5. Avoid using “fill” at gas stations

When filling up your rental car, avoid choosing the fill option. A common occurrence in Iceland is foreigners are finding themselves a couple of hundred dollars more out of pocket when they top up their gas. This has something to do with our banks putting a cash hold on the transaction, which happens quite often here in Iceland. I had mine reversed by email, though sometimes if left unchecked, the reversal can take up to 30 days. Avoid the fill button and continue with more money for adventures.

6. Rent a 4WD!

You’ve seen it all before, the amazing rugged landscapes and black sand beaches with a jeep powering through the terrain. This is exactly how you should explore Iceland. aA lot of the roads off of the main ring road which encircles the country are dirt tracks or gravel. If you want to see the rivers flowing from the mountains in Thórsmörk, or the base of huge glaciers, rent a 4WD. It’s worth the extra $ otherwise you’ll find yourself doing 8km round trip hikes to reach each destination like the one below.

7. Iceland isn’t really full of ice

There’s an old tale which states that Iceland got its name from a Norwegian settler who wanted to repel enemies away from his country. He named Iceland as Iceland, and Greenland as Greenland hoping pirates and conquerers would be enticed to the latter. How much truth there is to that story is unknown, but Iceland is definitely not just full of ice. In fact it resembles the landscape of New Zealand in many ways. Lush green meadows, fresh water streams and vegetation flourishing at the base of dormant volcanoes. In winter there is a lot of snowfall and the land is a lot less green due to harsh conditions, however spring and summer boast vibrant colours throughout their seasons.

8. Don’t forget to take in the scenery

Finally, as mentioned in my last blog, don’t forget to enjoy the scenery. Iceland is so picturesque with many Instagrammable opportunities waiting around each corner, so it’s easy to have your phone or camera constantly at the ready. But don’t forget to enjoy some of natures beauty with your own eyes rather than your cameras lens. There’s nothing worse than getting home with a picture you snapped, only to realise you didn’t get to fully experience the place for yourself. Get your shots, then put your device away and soak up the awesomeness that is Iceland.

There you have it, eight things to know about beautiful Iceland, a definite must-do for all nature lovers and adventure seekers. Bonus tip: make sure you have some warm clothes on you at all times, in any season. My Kathmandu gear was perfect for the Icelandic climate, once I’d recovered it from the airline.

- Ben Mikha